Supreme Court Jumps into Fight over Western Lands

Supreme Court Jumps into Fight over Western Lands

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(Washington-AP) -- The Supreme Court says it will use a dispute over wilderness areas to decide what legal rights people have when they're angered by government action -- or inaction.

The case puts the justices in the middle of a fight between environmentalists and the Bush administration over allowing off-road vehicles in wilderness study areas.

Environmental groups had sued in 1999 accusing a federal agency of not following a congressional mandate to preserve the pristine qualities of areas being considered for wilderness designation.

The Bush administration maintains that an agency's daily activities such as managing federal land cannot be challenged in court.

At issue in the case justices picked for review is land in Utah's backcountry being considered for special wilderness designation. Under federal law, those lands must be managed as if they were official wilderness areas until Congress decides what to do with them, meaning no motor vehicles or development.

The Denver-based tenth U-S Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bureau of Land Management has a statutory obligation to protect wilderness study areas, and could face lawsuits for not doing so.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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